In 1986, Motorola introduced the Six Sigma optimization paradigm to compete with the Kaizen business philosophy. Since then, the Six Sigma methodology has been utilized all over the world. In the 2000s, the methodology evolved into Lean Six Sigma (L6S), becoming one of the most widely accepted frameworks for improving performance and systematically removing waste from business and production processes.
Lean Six Sigma is a synergy between two related concepts. “Lean” focuses on eliminating eight kinds of waste (called “muda” in Japanese), while “Six Sigma” complements this by identifying and removing the causes of the defects. Together, they lead to the improved quality of the final optimization output.
Despite the wide adoption and high success rate, the methodology is not without its share of critics. As described by other researchers ( Sony M., et al. ), some of this criticism is valid and warrants further research, combined with the careful refinement of implementation details and techniques. Furthermore, it has previously been suggested that many of the Six Sigma challenges stem from the incorrect application of the methodology itself.
Our team at Cognition Shared Solutions LLC knows this problem inside and out. In our experience as a consulting company, we have worked with several clients who attempted to implement the Lean Six Sigma methodology to improve their businesses. Some of these clients were only reviewing the methodology as one of the candidate approaches. Others were veterans, having applied Lean Six Sigma for years with varying success. Most of these attempts showed moderate to even substantial success, however, none were without their share of challenges.
One issue that we encountered frequently while working with our clients was the gap between theory and practice. While the theory was well laid out and understood by the stakeholders, oftentimes it was not clear-cut how Six Sigma should be applied in the context of a particular process. Delving deeper into the issue, we found that most of the time, this theory-practice gap could be remedied by preparing a comprehensive analysis of the process details to be improved prior to the Six Sigma implementation.
Even though it may sound obvious, recent research confirms that methodologies like Six Sigma are predominantly applied to poorly understood or documented processes in the hope that the optimization itself will improve them anyway. However, Six Sigma is just a tool, not a miracle cure. If applied inappropriately, it may do more harm than good. In the end, the blame will be placed on the tool rather than the poor preparation.
As the well-known rule of project management states, Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. To apply the (Lean) Six Sigma methodology in the most appropriate way, the processes should be thoroughly mapped out first. By applying our unique Trilayer Business Process Analysis™, we have helped our clients prepare detailed and dynamic evaluations of business processes with interconnected layers of execution, data, and risk.
In practice, the first two layers of the Trilayer framework (execution and data) can be fed directly into the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) cycle of L6S. Prior mapping within the Trilayer framework ensures that the DMAIC steps are applied with high precision, and that business decisions are linked to appropriate data.
Aside from this, an additional benefit of the Trilayer Business Process Analysis™ is risk mapping. This does not translate directly into L6S concepts. However, we have found that proper risk awareness complements the application of L6S by giving the company’s management team an enhanced understanding of the causes and possible sources of risk for their business. With this knowledge alone, those in charge can successfully identify, quantify, and mitigate the risk, or even use it to the company’s advantage. The risk layer of L6S enables deeper analysis of the proposed improvements to ensure that harmful side effects are not accidentally introduced elsewhere in the process, which is a well-known L6S issue that receives frequent criticism.
While working with our clients, our team at Cognition Shared Solutions LLC has seen several examples of how the (Lean) Six Sigma approach, combined with our Trilayer framework, increases the chances of successful optimization by streamlining the implementation and providing accurate metrics to measure final performance.